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Position preview: shortstop

Brandon Crawford and some more Brandon Crawford.

Brandon Crawford in the dugout wearing a bandana Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants have a rare spring off day today, but that won’t keep us from talking about them. Next on the list of position previews for 2023 is a stable and yet dramatic position: shortstop.

Here are the other position previews so far:

Players who played shortstop for the Giants in 2022

Brandon Crawford — 116 games
Thairo Estrada — 37 games
Donovan Walton — 12 games
Dixon Machado — 5 games
Mauricio Dubón — 4 games
Jason Vosler — 1 game

Roster locks for 2023

Carlos Correa
Brandon Crawford
Thairo Estrada

Other shortstops on the 40-man roster

Brett Wisely
Isan Díaz

Players in the system who might factor into the position

Tyler Fitzgerald
Will Wilson
Donovan Walton
Marco Luciano
Casey Schmitt

Shortstop was the most dramatic position for the Giants over the offseason, and it looks destined to be the least dramatic during the actual season. Funny how that works.

For a week the Giants had Carlos Correa. You know the guy. He’s very good.

In the week between Correa agreeing to a contract that would pay him nearly as much as the Golden State Warriors were sold for in recent memory, and Correa failing a medical that canceled the deal, Brandon Crawford told a reporter that the Giants hadn’t informed him that he’d be moved off of the position until after agreeing to terms with Correa.

That weirdness and rudeness was only compounded when Correa immediately agreed to a deal with the New York Mets (though it was canceled for the same physical concerns), with reports stating that he would play third base to accommodate incumbent shortstop Francisco Lindor.

And with that, the Giants entered 2023 the way they ended 2022: with Crawford at shortstop. Only this time it’s with the man who has never played for or even rooted for a different organization having every right to be a little miffed, though there’s no indication of Crawford doing anything other than carrying a likely chip on his shoulder.

As a result, the most in the air position for the offseason has settled back into being the most stable. Crawford projects as one of just three Giants to be in the same spot on the diamond at the start of 2023 that they were in at the start of 2022, joining Thairo Estrada at second base and Logan Webb on the mound. He’s the only player to still be an Opening Day starter at the same position as on the 2021 team.

That instability and churn elsewhere on the roster is magnified next to Crawford ... the last time he wasn’t the Opening Day starter at shortstop was in 2011, when the Giants put forth an infield of Brandon Belt, Freddy Sánchez, Pablo Sandoval, and Miguel Tejada, and an outfield of Pat Burrell, Andres Torres, and Aubrey Huff, with Tim Lincecum throwing changeups to Buster Posey. They got their championship rings that day. Their first championship rings.

It feels like you could say this about most positions — and I probably have — but if you’re trying to find optimism for how the Giants could have a successful season, or pessimism for why they won’t, you can easily find both with Crawford.

You saw the former just two years ago when, fueled by some adjustments from the progressive coaching staff, Crawford came within a hair of hitting .300, bopped a career-best 24 home runs, won a Gold Glove, put up 6.3 fWAR, and finished fourth in MVP voting (higher than Correa ever has). You saw the latter just a year ago when, driven by regression and a lingering injury, his batting average fell off a cliff, his slugging percentage plummeted nearly .200 points, his defense was merely good, and he was worth just 2.0 fWAR.

We’ve seen Crawford be the catalyst for one of the best teams in baseball. We’ve seen it very recently. We’ve also seen Crawford be Just Another Guy on a team full of Just Another Guys. We’ve seen it very recently.

Crawford’s age and overall career trajectory would lead you to believe the more disappointing of the two outcomes is likely, but there is context. He was really, really good in 2020 also, so 2021 wasn’t a massive outlier. And perhaps most importantly, after a rough start to 2022, Crawford started to figure it out down the stretch, with better looking at-bats and significantly improved defense. It won’t shock you to learn that those improvements were accompanied by claims of better health. I wouldn’t rush to Vegas to put money on Crawford making another MVP push, but a season comfortably above what we saw last year shouldn’t be even remotely surprising.

Things get interesting behind Crawford. Thairo Estrada, who is either the everyday second baseman or a super utility player, proved last year that he’s more than capable of holding down the position when called upon. Not every team can pump $648 million into three shortstops to put next to their $350 million third baseman who has spent 2,000 career innings at shortstop, as the San Diego Padres did. For the rest of us, Estrada is a damn good backup.

What’s less clear is what happens at second base when Estrada fills in at shortstop. Or what the Giants might do if there’s an extended absence for Crawford.

But they’re certainly not lacking in options. The 40-man roster already has two intriguing left-handed hitting middle infielders in Brett Wisely and Isan Díaz, with Gabe Kapler publicly proclaiming that each will play a role on the active roster this year ... and this version of the Giants has not been known to hand out such praise unless they actually mean it.

Tyler Fitzgerald opened eyes last year with his middle infield defense in AA Richmond, while former first-round pick Will Wilson showed a little bit of everything in Richmond, and even earned a midseason AAA promotion before suffering an injury.

Any of those four players could see time at shortstop this year, or fill in at second while Estrada slides over to his right.

Beyond that lie the very interesting options. Marco Luciano, the top position player prospect in the organization, figures to start the year in AA Richmond. While most analysts remain dubious about his ability to stay at shortstop, the Giants clearly do not, and he has the type of bat that could force its way onto the roster quickly. Casey Schmitt, arguably the best non-Luciano position player prospect in the organization, looks the part of a perennial Gold Glove candidate at third base, but the organization still gave him nearly 350 innings at shortstop last year. If the bat he brings to AAA Sacramento looks anything like the one he took to Richmond, he could quickly become a depth piece at both left side of the infield spots.

But Crawford is still the story. Others will play and quite possibly excite. But another excellent Giants season likely includes another notable Crawford performance that leaves us wondering if the Giants might re-up him once more. And another middling Giants season likely means another mediocre year from the man who’s started more games at the position than any other player in franchise history.